News: Students learn ethics of war firsthand
Story by Lance Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos
QUANTICO, Va. — “The prime minister, his pregnant wife and his daughter are all seriously injured. You only have two casualty litters. Who do you save?” shouted the instructor to the squad leader at the scene of a simulated accident.
Thirteen students from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies took part in an ethical decision-making field exercise at The Basic School, April 12.
“This is only the second time we’ve done an exercise like [ethics exercise],” said Capt. Roberto Scribner, the protocol officer at TBS.
“It’s great,” said Bryan Schell, a student going through the course. “Getting the chance to come out here and put camouflage paint on my face and experience what Marines do on a daily basis makes me want to enlist.”
The students got a quick lesson on Marine hand and arm signals and basic foot patrol procedures.
The students then transitioned to a classroom where they were briefed on the situation and given their mission from Scribner.
“You are the first U.S. forces at Camp Barrett in the country of Centralia,” Scribner said to the students. “Two weeks ago the world’s largest deposits of cerium and tungsten were discovered in the Centralian highlands.”
With Centralia at the center of world attention, it has caused the Centralian Revolutionary Force, a low-level, tribal-based insurgency, to ramp up their rebellion. A neighboring country, Montańa, has decided to support the CRF’s efforts in order to destabilize the Centralian government and come in and exploit the mineral deposits.
“The U.N. has mandated that we observe and report,” Scribner said to the students. “If we are seen to take sides in this conflict then it would cause civil war between the Centralian government and the CRF.”
Given their mission, the students began to prep their gear for the long night ahead, which, unbeknownst to the students, was to include one night operation and three different scenarios following thereafter.
Geared up and ready to roll, the students, led by Lori Hammer, a student in the course, patrolled through the woods to an area near the Montanian boarder where they would stage their gear.
“I think it’s going great so far,” Hammer said. “I really have no idea what they have in store for us tonight.”
Once the students staged their gear and made camp, some turned in for the night while others stood fire-watch.
A few hours into their slumber, the students were awakened by screams for help and the loud sound of soft rock playing through a stereo.
The students standing watch alerted the others and set out to investigate the commotion.
“When we first got to the scene, we didn’t know to do,” Hammer said. “All we could see is that there had been what looked like a car accident, with injured people calling for help.”
The students approached the crash with caution, not knowing whether the victims were friend or foe.
“I assigned a fire team to post security and the rest of us went to tend the victims,” Hammer said. “We found out it was the prime minister of Centralia with his wife and daughter.”
The scene quickly turned to chaos as the victims became hysterical and the students found themselves unprepared to handle them or medically evacuate the wounded.
“We didn’t expect this, and we had left the casualty litters back at the camp,” Hammer said. “We sent two people to retrieve them, but that took up a lot of time.”
About 30 minutes after arriving to the scene, the two students finally returned, but the squad had a new dilemma. With three casualties and only two litters, who would they leave behind?
“This is a tough decision,” said Maj. Dan Dowd, the Warfighting Section head and ethics instructor. “You have the prime minister, who is essential to keeping the country of Centralia together; his wife, who is pregnant; and their daughter, who has huge influence and is expected to take over for her father and bring peace. It’s a tough moral decision that has to be made.”
Deciding what was best for the future of the country, Hammer chose to evacuate the prime minister and his daughter to the casualty extraction point, a mile away.
The chaos continued throughout the extraction, as the students had a difficult time carrying the wounded. Adding to the difficulty of the evacuation, one of the students became a casualty after stepping on an improvised explosive device.
Presented with another moral dilemma, Hammer had to make another tough decision.
“One of your own goes down,” Dowd said. “Do you continue on without him, which will hurt troop morale, or do you leave the prime minister or his daughter?”
“The whole reason why we’re here is to help keep this country together,” Hammer said. “I was thinking overall mission, so I decided to push forward and save the two who were essential to our mission.”
“In situations like these, the decision you make can be the wrong one and still be right and it can be the right decision and still be wrong,” Scribner said during the squad’s debrief.
As the exercise continued throughout the night and into next morning, the students were presented with different scenarios with the same type of ethical choices to be made.
“Some of these students are going to graduate and become ambassadors for the U.S.,” Dowd said. “It’s essential for them to understand what we go through as Marines and how the decisions they make effect that lance corporal in combat operations.”
“No university can give you the experience we learned out here today,” said Andrew Dunn, a student in the class. “I am just blown away at some the decisions Marines have to make in combat that can have a global effect.”